Where Are All the Young “Adults”?


Image Courtesy of David Morris (flickr.com)

These past three months have been a whirlwind for fans and writers of YA. From articles in the Wall Street Journal, to Slate and NPR the term “young adult literature” has been heard far and wide. But instead of compiling a list of retorts after reading some of these articles, I have decided to share with you one of the many YA-centric questions lingering in my brain since June: Where are all the young “adults” in YA?

I started reading YA when I was about 14-years-old. As mentioned in my previous blogs, I was leaning towards the misanthropic, had recently moved to a new county, and books were my ever-constant refuge. Now, I am 23-years-old. I still love reading YA depicting the classic bildungroman arcs, the passionate, overwhelming romances/first loves, and the overcoming of familial/societal/personal obstacles all from the point of view of a minor. But now my tastes have shifted slightly.

I want to read stories about the 18 and over crowd. I want to relate to the twenty-something experiences of fictional characters, realize I was not the only one who waited until the night before to write a ten page collegiate paper on the similarities/differences between Nietzsche and Rousseau (I apologize to all my former professors. Blame Lost.), and take comfort that it’s okay to be a bit lost and confused even after you unceremoniously receive your diploma in the mail.  I don’t seem to find any of this in the current influx of YA.

The focus as of late has been on the harm this genre may have on younger children, which is a topic that deserves discussion. However, it should not be forgotten that “young adult literature,” as defined by YALSA, is not limited to those still in/entering high school: “ The size of this population segment has also increased as the conventional definition of ‘young adult’ has expanded to include those as young as ten and, since the late 1990s, as old as twenty-five.”

When is the last time you read a YA book with a 25-year-old protagonist?

An easy solution to this dilemma, you may say, is to walk towards the adult section of any library or bookstore. But why should I? The YA writing style is noticeably different than that of an adult novel. I do not know exactly what causes them to diverge – though I am in a constant quest for an answer – but there seems to be a sort of whimsical, hopeful, non-nostalgic element to YA. I am still a “young” adult.  I do not want to reflect, I want to react.

I want to read about a character having a sleepless, music-dazed night in NYC and actively decide to do the same because I have never done it before. I want to read about a character who collects famous last words, and proactively begin to collect my own favorite quotes. Reflection is not indicative of YA for teens, it is an after-after thought.

I can only think of a handful of YA novels that highlight 18 and over characters, (I am not alone in this result. Sharon Rawlins, of YALSA’s The Hub, recently compiled a list of YA novels featuring the college experience. The list is quite short.) and this is a bit disheartening. I constantly read articles lamenting the disinterest of young readers once they hit their late teens and early college years; this may be due to their busier lives and other new-found interests, but there is also a lack of material for them to read. The transition from young adult literature to adult is not smooth but rather quite tumultuous – you go from reading John Green to David Foster Wallace. To further enforce my point, I have been considering joining an adult book club for some time, but when I read the list of selections for each month I am instantly discouraged – not because I am a narrow-minded bibliophile, but because the books do not tug my inner-soul, they just tap it.

To make sure that these thoughts are not completely unfounded, I have been actively seeking out YA books that include characters in college/ of college age. Here are the few I have found:

An Off Year by Claire Zulkey

Light Years by Tammar Stein

The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

What am I missing?

A large portion of my hippocampus wants to be proven wrong, and hopefully one day, soon, it will be. Or I might just have to remove chucks of brain à la Walter Bishop.

Lourdes Keochgerien, YA Consultant & ReaderDFTBA

Post Scriptum

Am I flat out, utterly, and terribly wrong? Let me know in the comments.


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10 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Maya says:

    How about “Better Than Running At Night” by Hillary Frank? Also, “Number 6 Fumbles” by Rachel Solar-Tuttle is usually shelved in the adult section but has more of a YA feel to it.

  2. Lourdes says:

    Thanks Maya. I have seen “Better Than Running At Night” (during my library shelving days) but never got around to reading it. I know I will now. I have never heard of “Number 6 Fumbles” but it’s a MTV Books publication so I know it will be good. The interesting thing though is that only one library owns it in my system. So I better order it before it’s too late. (Sidebar: Tuttle’s book in the library system is labeled as YA so I guess it jumps between the two.)

  3. […] isn’t much out there featuring main characters in that age range, as seems to be the case (“Where Are All the Young ‘Adults’?”, Young Adult Review Network; “The College Experience in YA Books,” YALSA’s The […]

  4. Alison says:

    However, it should not be forgotten that “young adult literature,” as defined by YALSA, is not limited to those still in/entering high school: “ The size of this population segment has also increased as the conventional definition of ‘young adult’ has expanded to include those as young as ten and, since the late 1990s, as old as twenty-five.”

    It has? This is news to this member of YALSA. The committees on which I’ve served have used the YALSA definition of “young adult” as 12-18.

    I agree that there’s room for more groups, but I think you’ll find that YA publishing (and YA in libraries anyway) is pretty much 12 (or 13) to 18 (or 17).


  5. Lourdes says:

    Hey Alison,

    Thanks for the information and your comments. I found this definition of YA on the YALSA website itself. However, it is a very broad description of the genre and in reality the targeted demographic of YA is 12-18. Nevertheless, I do see minor but still present tendencies of over 18 characters in YA, and I would love to see more of it. I guess I just do not want to let go of YA let.

  6. Adrianne R. says:

    Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling Series is a good example of YA writing that takes a character from high school through the early college experience.
    Although by the time the last two books in the series were released, I had a hard time finding them in the bookstore as they were grouped in the “Fiction” (re: Adult) section rather than in YA simply because the main character was now in her early twenties.

  7. Shelver506 says:

    I’ve found that many of the “more mature” YA books are easier to swallow when the characters’ ages are glossed over. For instance, I have no clue what the ages are of the protagonists in “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein, and the book felt solidly NA to me.

    So do these types of books slip through precisely because the ages are swept under the rug? I don’t know.

    (If you’re interested, I wrote a post about the New Adult category – or lack thereof – just last week http://shelversanon.blogspot.com/2012/05/new-adult-or-there-be-rough-waters.html ).

  8. Lourdes says:

    Hello Shelver506,

    I have “Code Name Verity” on my to “To Be Read” list. I really need to get on that. Also, it seems that you are right about their ages being “undefined.” Do you think this was on purpose so that there would be a wider appeal or for the readers sake so that no matter their age, they can see how they would react in the situations within the book?

    I think these books certainly are in limbo when it comes to age. Since they are general in this sense this allows for more specificity to come through in the plot. And “Code Name Verity” is a perfect example of this.

    Also, I am definitely going to read your blog post. This is a topic that still interests me.

    Thanks for commenting and reading,



  9. […] who are transitioning from childhood/teenagerhood to adulthood. A few years ago, in response to a post on the Young Adult Review Network (YARN), I struggled to come up with a handful of titles that fit this category. YARN responded with […]

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